While the National Hockey League said Friday it will continue to keep an eye on a federal illegal gambling and money laundering case in Rochester, N.Y., that Thomas Vanek has testified in as the government’s prime witness, the Wild forward likely won’t face league discipline unless he faces criminal charges or bet on hockey.
Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett, told the Star Tribune Friday that “Thomas is not in any way, shape or form involved in any illegal activities or in trouble here.”
Vanek bet on football and was paying off a gambling debt, according to Bartlett.
Vanek’s in the news again because a defense attorney for a man who pleaded guilty to illegal gambling and conspiracy to launder money Thursday alluded to the fact that the check his client helped launder came from Vanek while he played for the New York Islanders.
In an interview with WHEC-TV’s Berkeley Brean in Rochester, N.Y., lawyer Jim Wolford, who represents Mark Ruff, said the $230,000 “check that was identified as far as the money laundering was a New York Islander check.”
That check, apparently endorsed over to the men, was to pay off a gambling debt, Ruff admitted in court.
Asked what he was implying by saying the check was a New York Islander check, Wolford told WHEC-TV, “Thomas Vanek was here [in federal court], what, a couple months ago? I think at the last hearing he was playing for the Islanders.”
When asked if he was inferring the check came from Vanek, Wolford said, “It came from the Islanders. … Put it this way, I was a little surprised when I heard on the news that Mr. Vanek was claiming complete innocence with respect to this entire operation.”
Bartlett was incensed by the lawyer’s comments.
“If you read it quickly or you listen to his comments, it almost alludes to the fact that Thomas vanek was involved in money laundering, which is totally false,” Bartlett told the Star Tribune. “He is not the subject of any investigation or criminal charges or anything whatsoever. He was a witness against this guy who was the bookmaker. He was the guy that wanted money and Thomas paid it to him. Thomas wasn’t involved in any bookmaking activities.
“Now people are like, ‘Oh, Thomas was a money launderer. That’s totally false. He was the bettor. He bet on football games. Obviously that’s what he was testifying to. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure that out.”
In July, Vanek was in a federal court in Rochester as part of an ongoing gambling investigation stemming from the June arrest of three men on gambling and money laundering charges. The three men – Ruff, his brother, Joe, and another man -- were allegedly conducting an illegal gambling business out of the Marina Restaurant and Bar in Charlotte, N.Y., since Jan. 2012.
At the time, Vanek released the statement, “Representatives of the U.S. Federal Government have asked for my cooperation in an investigation. I am not the subject of any investigation or prosecution. I will fully cooperate with the U.S. Federal authorities in their investigation or in any proceedings arising out of it.”
Wolford told the Democrat & Chronicle that the $230,000 was a small portion of the overall debt owed by the gambler who paid with an Islanders check. The total of the debt was more than $1 million, he said.
I contacted the National Hockey League last night and heard back this morning.
“We will obviously follow up on the ‘facts’ suggested in the article to satisfy ourselves that we are on top of the situation,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Star Tribune.
In the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, the only mention of gambling comes in Exhibit 14.2: “Gambling on any NHL game is prohibited.”
There has been no allegation that Vanek bet on hockey.
This apparently was a football ring. If Vanek was betting on football, it is unlikely that the NHL will take any action. As long as Vanek wasn’t part of the gambling ring or involved in money laundering and faces no criminal charges, Vanek and the Wild likely have nothing to worry about.
Since Vanek is cooperating with the federal investigation, that would lead one to believe Vanek won’t be facing charges.
The Wild held an optional practice Friday, and Vanek left without commenting.
Vanek, in nine games with the Wild, has no goals and leads with seven assists. His two third-period assists last night on Kyle Brodziak goals helped the 6-3 Wild rally to beat the San Jose Sharks in a shootout.